Recently, informal educational settings such as museums and science centres have witnessed increased attention to current issues in science and technology (S&T). Supporting the ‘mantras’ Public Understanding of Science and Public Understanding of Research, these settings have been exploring ways to enhance visitors’ involvement and engagement in matters related to science, technology, society and environment (STSE). They have attempted to develop contemporary installations with all the social and political trappings of the day, moving from pedagogical and experiential exhibitions to critical exhibits. These thoughtprovoking exhibits are developed in an effort to represent science in context and to engage the public with issues (such as, for example, reproductive technologies and climate change) that are important to our lives, environment, and to our well-being. Critical exhibitions call for different and controversial points of view, alternative forms of (re)presenting science and opportunities for multiple visitor responses. Furthermore, a shift from passive to interactive forms of public communication of science has impacted museum activities and the visitor experience. Visitors are invited to explore the intersections across science and society and to engage with the ‘messiness’ of science and the social, political, economic, and historical forces that impact it. In this presentation we describe our research project which examines the work of science centres and museums around controversial issues related to STSE, specifically the interface between exhibits and visitor engagement. We intend to do a series of individual case studies of exhibitions housed at institutions across Canada. Criteria for selecting cases were based on the controversial and ‘critical’ nature of the exhibits, their visibility, and their relationship to current S&T issues (for example, A Question of Truth - Ontario Science Centre, Body Worlds - Gunther von Hagen, idTV - Montreal Science Centre and Renewable Energies: Time to Decide - Canada Science and Technology Museum, Ottawa). Semi-structured interviews with museum staff and visitors, observations of visitors’ interaction with exhibits, and content analysis of relevant documents will be used to build up a portrait of the nature and impact of each case.

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Public Communication of Science and Technology

 

Critical exhibits and public engagement
Challenges and possibilities

Erminia Pedretti   University of Toronto, Ontario Institute for Studies in Education, Department of Curriculum, Teaching and Learning, Canada

Ana Maria Navas Iannini   University of Toronto, Ontario Institute for Studies in Education, Department of Curriculum, Teaching and Learning, Canada

Joanne Nazir   University of Toronto, Ontario Institute for Studies in Education, Department of Curriculum, Teaching and Learning, Canada

Recently, informal educational settings such as museums and science centres have witnessed increased attention to current issues in science and technology (S&T). Supporting the ‘mantras’ Public Understanding of Science and Public Understanding of Research, these settings have been exploring ways to enhance visitors’ involvement and engagement in matters related to science, technology, society and environment (STSE). They have attempted to develop contemporary installations with all the social and political trappings of the day, moving from pedagogical and experiential exhibitions to critical exhibits. These thoughtprovoking exhibits are developed in an effort to represent science in context and to engage the public with issues (such as, for example, reproductive technologies and climate change) that are important to our lives, environment, and to our well-being. Critical exhibitions call for different and controversial points of view, alternative forms of (re)presenting science and opportunities for multiple visitor responses. Furthermore, a shift from passive to interactive forms of public communication of science has impacted museum activities and the visitor experience. Visitors are invited to explore the intersections across science and society and to engage with the ‘messiness’ of science and the social, political, economic, and historical forces that impact it. In this presentation we describe our research project which examines the work of science centres and museums around controversial issues related to STSE, specifically the interface between exhibits and visitor engagement. We intend to do a series of individual case studies of exhibitions housed at institutions across Canada. Criteria for selecting cases were based on the controversial and ‘critical’ nature of the exhibits, their visibility, and their relationship to current S&T issues (for example, A Question of Truth - Ontario Science Centre, Body Worlds - Gunther von Hagen, idTV - Montreal Science Centre and Renewable Energies: Time to Decide - Canada Science and Technology Museum, Ottawa). Semi-structured interviews with museum staff and visitors, observations of visitors’ interaction with exhibits, and content analysis of relevant documents will be used to build up a portrait of the nature and impact of each case.

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